Hops plants were mentioned by the Roman writer Pliny in the first century A.D. as a popular garden plant and vegetable whose young spring shoots were sold in markets and eaten like asparagus.
By the ninth century, the hops plant was used in brewing throughout most of Europe for its clearing, flavoring and preserving qualities.
Today most home garden hops growers are cultivating them because they make their own home brew. However like the early Romans, the stems can still be steamed and eaten like asparagus.
Hops are the flowers used to season beer. Bittering hops, meaning adding hops early on in the boil process, provide bitterness to the beer to balance the sweetness of the malt. Hops added at the end of the boil, referred to as finishing hops, add flavor and aroma to the beer. Adding hops directly to the fermenter, or dry hopping, lends additional hop aroma to the beer.
Hops also serve as a natural preservative, helping to prevent spoilage in beer. Hops comes as either whole flowers or compressed pellets (think rabbit food). There are many varieties of hops available to homebrewers, allowing for great diversity of flavors and aromas.
Different hops are used to brew different styles of beer. For example, cascade hops give American pale ales their distinct citrusy quality, fuggles have an earthiness common in English-style ales, and saaz lend the spicy/herbal character found in European Pilsners.
Cultivation of Hops
Site: To grow hops, the soil should be tilled to create a weed free area. A strong support system is need for the plant to climb on. Look for space along fences, garage, or property lines. The soil should be worked into a fine, condition prior to planting, preferable fertile and deeply dug.
Propagation: Reproduce female plants only. Divide roots and separate rooted stems and sucker in spring. Take cuttings in early summer. Avoid sowing, as plant gender is unknown for
2 - 3 years.
Growing: Grow hops plants three feet apart against support. Hops can be grown indoors but they seldom flower.
Harvesting: Pick young side shoots in spring. Gather young leaves as required. Pick ripe flowers in early autumn. Collect stems in late autumn.
Culinary Uses: Use dried ripe female flowers to flavor, clear and preserve beer. Parboil male flowers and toss into salads.
Blanche young leaves to remove bitterness. Add to soups.
Steam young side shoots and serve like asparagus.